Should you, or can you grow corn in raised beds? It can be tricky, but the answer is definitely yes. There are a few things to keep in mind,though, which is why I didn’t add it to my major veggie list.
I’ll always remember finding corn kernels in a pack once as a kid and just randomly planting them in the dirt just to “see what would happen”…Well, something did, they sprouted, but were scabby looking and most likely non edible. You most likely will not get “lucky” with corn. So make sure you go in with a plan.
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It is a little bit tougher crop than others, we probably got around 6-7 ears last year from one of our beds. Not a huge yield, but then again, we probably had about 10 plants total…We ended up spicing it up and cooking it on the grill as part of our July 4th cookout. That was fun…and by the way, it tasted great! So if you love the idea of biting into an ear of fresh, sweet corn, read on. As I lay out this blueprint, I learned what mistakes I did make and what to do differently. We did not plant corn this year, as we had a different plan…but I think you will find that if you master it, you will have a great crop on your hands.
Different Varieties of Corn
Corn that you grow is different from the corn that I find in the seed mix I feed to all the local wild birds….One time, I found a little stalk had sprouted in my front yard as a result of scattered seed…(it didn’t produce ears, though!)
Most corn I’ve seen is sweet and the classic yellow color, and sometimes there’s white, too, like the shoepeg.
We planted three different types: Jaws Hybrid, Jackpot Hybrid and Sweet Triple Crown. All of these are “sweet” varieties.Sweet corn is great for grilling! We seasoned our ears in butter, roasted cayenne pepper and a hint of brown sugar. Dee-lish!
The Jackpot hybrid has bi-color white and yellow kernels and tastes great. The ears get about 8″ in length. Sweet Triple Crown also has a great flavor, it’s usually all yellow kernels and about average size. The Jaws hybrid gets pretty big – at about a foot in length.
If you’d prefer a smaller or shorter type of corn that doesn’t gets as ginormous in the backyard -check into the Dwarf varieties. which do not get any higher than 3 or 5 feet. The ears are usually half the size -about 4-5″ . This includes Midget Golden and Blue Jade (yes, they’re really blue in color.) Not a fan of anything blue (other than blueberries) but I thought I’d throw that out there. You could get something like this easily planted in a smaller space or bed, and even with smaller ears, they would still taste great.
Spacing of Corn in Raised Beds
This is the tricky part and it must be followed carefully. You’ve probably heard that corn should be planted in rows (everyone always says “rows of corn”…) But actually, corn should be planted in blocks instead. Why is this? With inground traditional planting, rows is common practice , which helps in pollination. With elevated beds, it’s better to use the block spacing approach, as it will enable the plants to support each other in their space.
If you use the square foot approach, the rule of thumb is to plant corn kernels about 2-3 per square foot. Case in point, if you have a 4 x 4 square bed, you could get a max total of 48 plants in there, ( at a rate of 3 plants per square inch, if you aimed for 2 plants, that would be 24 total. For a 4 x 8 sized bed, you could get as many as 96 plants total in that space, or more conservatively, 48 if you do the math.
96 sounds like a lot of plants, and it is, but also factor in that each corn plant will probably produce about 2 ears of corn max, so you do want to think about having a certain amount depending on how many ears you’re hoping for, your plans for them, and how many people are in your family.
Be sure your bed is at least 4 feet in width and 12″ deep to be able to give the plants adequate support. They could topple over during heavy rain or wind so they do need to be somewhat close together, but not too much. A good distance to adhere to is 8″ between each plant. When you plant each kernel, start by planting them 2″ apart, but as they start to grow, trim the seedlings, you should end up eventually with plants all about 8″ apart from each other.
Corn roots get very dense and long , no doubt to compensate for their height.
What Other Veggies Are Compatible?
Because corn stalks get so tall (like you needed me to tell you that, right?) there is the potential to “shade out” other plants in the vicinity, so you have to be judicious when deciding what you are going to plant alongside corn in the same bed. Corn is actually in the grass family and it’s a heavy feeder when it comes to nutrients.
Have you ever heard of the “three sisters” approach? Two other crops that are related include beans and squash. This is a time-tested strategy that’s been around a long time and it makes use of companion plants that boost each others’ productivity when put together. Beans are great as they are a great supply of nitrogen, which corn plants need a great deal of, and squash spreads out on the ground more. Bean plants can climb around corn stalks as a form of support, and squash is a good plant to grow wide and this will help to starve out weeds and each crop plant will get an equal amount of nutrients form the soil and sun.
How to Plant the Seeds
To expedite germination, soak your corn kernels overnight in water. Each kernel should be at least an inch deep in the soil. I would plant two kernels in each spot because there is always a chance that one of them may crap out and do nothing. Planting two gives you a buffer.
Be sure to try to start your planting during a dry time, if it’s a rainy part of the season it could cause your seed kernels to rot before they have a chance to develop under ground.
Soil and Sun
Be sure you map out a good plot with a lot of full sun, as they need at least 6 hours of it to develop. Hopefully, you did not choose a shady spot when you did the preliminary work beforehand. The soil should be well drained, warm, and nitrogen rich, so you want to choose a good fertilizer for this, but don’t go overboard with something like fresh manure (let it age for at least six months) as that much nitrogen will have the opposite effect.
Germination and Harvest
Tip: keep the husks and hang on to them….they could be used for crafts. Have you ever seen “corn husk dolls”? Very rustic and charming. Let the husks dry out, once you have a collection you could transform them into cute figurines, that is a topic for a whole other post, but something to think about.
Make sure you take steps to protect your corn crop, the local wild birds may want to eat it (I don’t have this problem as every time I give them birdseed I always find all the corn kernels left behind. Who knows why? SO I take it I have the kind of birds here that don’t care for corn….Also, I don’t have a deer problem as my backyard is surrounded by a fence.But if you aren’t so lucky you may want to take steps to protect the ears by wrapping them, and also think about building a support structure as well like a trellis.
The length of time for maturity depends on the variety but on average it’s 75-85 days. You may notice silks forming on the ear, if you are unsure if it is ready or not, peel back thte top of the husk slightly to see how the kernels are forming, they should be somewhat plump and full looking. because corn stalks are very robust, you’ll have to sort of twist it off , and pull downward slightly. I think I may have used a small kitchen knife the first time I harvested an ear.
Well, that’s my wrap up….I don’t recommend everyone take on corn in a raised bed, but these are the major guidelines you should adhere to. It’s more challenging than other crop plants, but it can be worth your while. I’m sure if you do well, you’ll have a lot of fun grilling it, dipping it in melted butter and seasing it, and adding it to your summer cookout lineup. Have you grown corn before in raised beds? Let me know what your experience was like in the comments below.